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Jimenez, who will have completed 30 years of work with the department in July, had admitted in deposition that he took Suns tickets, Diamondbacks tickets, meals, and a pocketknife from contractors doing business with the state.

After Braunstein complained last year, ADOT's internal affairs department launched a cursory investigation. The department cleared Jimenez of any wrongdoing -- but, as Braunstein and his attorney learned in deposition, the agency's investigator never even bothered to tally the items Jimenez accepted, much less assess their value.

And, as records make clear, at least one of Jimenez's actions did benefit his benefactor: Around the time he's admitted to accepting gifts from the national design firm DMJM, Jimenez extended one of the company's multimillion-dollar contracts for five years longer than its original terms. No other firms were given a chance to compete.

ADOT spokeswoman Jodi Sorrell says that Jimenez's retirement plans have nothing to do with Braunstein's claims. It's not unusual, she says, for state employees to retire at the end of the state's fiscal year in June, and Jimenez certainly had the experience to justify retirement. Sorrell says he was not forced out.

Still, the rapid departure of the two employees named in Braunstein's suit, within a month of the first newspaper stories about the case, appears to be more than coincidental.

And perhaps the biggest sign that state officials are finally taking Braunstein's allegations seriously is a recent filing from the Arizona Attorney General.

The agency is tasked with investigating complicated white-collar crimes, including fraud. But the agency also represents ADOT -- creating a sticky situation when its client is accused of wrongdoing.

And so Attorney General Terry Goddard's office has spent the past three years defending ADOT.

It's Goddard's office that signed off on the $910,000 settlement last year. And it's Goddard's office that's argued that ADOT doesn't have to follow federal procurement rules or state procurement rules -- its staffers can do what they want.

On June 14, however, the attorney general filed paperwork with the court withdrawing as ADOT's attorney. The agency will now be represented by a small Phoenix firm, Curtis, Goodwin, Sullivan, Udall & Schwab.

Documents obtained by New Times suggest the attorney general may have been wise to step aside.

The documents include the score sheets completed by members of ADOT's selection committee. (The committee was choosing design/management firms for Maricopa County freeway work -- the contracts at the center of Braunstein's second suit as well as his upcoming notice of claim.)

Six firms applied for the work, and the selection panel was charged with winnowing the list to three firms. To that end, documents show, they considered both the main firms' capabilities and their roster of local subcontractors.

And that's where the problem comes in. James Romero, a longtime ADOT manager, was one of the eight panelists. And -- though there's no record of his disclosing it to the agency -- his daughter works for Aztec Engineering, which was listed as a subcontractor for three of the applicants.

Romero heavily favored the three firms using Aztec, according to records. On a 90-point scale, he scored those three firms 85, 83, and 82.

The three firms not using Aztec?

On that same 90-point scale, Romero gave them a 74, 60, and 58, records show.

In the first round of scoring, only one of the other eight panelists ranked all of Romero's favored three firms at the top. And no other panelist issued any score below 68.

After a round of interviews, the panelists revised their scores to reflect the new information they'd been given. And once again, Romero ranked the three firms using Aztec much higher than the others. Once again, his lowest score was a full 14 points lower than anyone else's.

Ultimately, the three firms that Romero favored were chosen by ADOT for millions of dollars of work.

New Times' calculations show that the same three firms would have won even without Romero's scores being included.

But it would have been a squeaker -- the third-place firm would have beaten the fourth, which ended up getting zero work, by just 1/10th of a point. And that's on a 100 point scale.

(There's also the question of what impact one person can have in an interview setting, where panelists interact with each other and can be influenced by each other's questions.)

But Braunstein has long alleged that the problems at ADOT go far beyond Jim Romero. And while the selection panel scores do raise questions, it's an e-mail exchange from the same period that seems to point to a bigger problem -- an agency that's unconcerned with the appearance of impropriety and, perhaps, impropriety itself.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske